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Find more Notable Books
The Notable Books Council, ALA Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), presents its annual best-of list of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles published in the U.S., 25 books selected for their significant contribution to the expansion of knowledge or for the pleasure they provide. This list has been compiled for use by general readers and for librarians who work with adults. All titles were published in 2020.
Breasts and Eggs. By Mieko Kawakami. Tr. by Sam Bett and David Boyd. Europa, $27 (9781609455873).
The intimate journeys of three women confronting oppressive mores and their own uncertainties sketch a portrait of contemporary female identity in Japan.
Deacon King Kong. By James McBride. Riverhead, $28 (9780735216723).
Brooklyn, 1969. A man called “Sportcoat” shoots a local drug dealer, and it takes a village to tell the rest of this darkly comic tale.
Hamnet. By Maggie O’Farrell. Knopf, $26.95 (9780525657606).
In 1580 England, a Latin tutor pursues a career in London’s playhouses while his wife attempts to protect their children from a pandemic in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Leave the World Behind. By Rumaan Alam, Ecco, $27.99 (9780062667632).
A family’s stay in a luxury vacation rental is interrupted when the homeowners arrive seeking shelter from a menacing but nebulous catastrophe.
Little Eyes. By Samanta Schweblin. Tr. by Megan McDowell. Riverhead, $26 (9780525541363).
In the near future, Kentuckis—small robots purchased by eager “keepers” but controlled by anonymous human “dwellers”—sweep the globe, with unnerving results.
The Office of Historical Corrections. By Danielle Evans. Riverhead, $27 (9781594487330).
Through rich characters and inventive settings, this witty story collection explores the identity of Black women and pervasive racism in America past and present.
Piranesi. By Susanna Clarke. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781635575637).
The occupant of a labyrinthine structure explores its infinite rooms and corridors until the world he knows begins to unravel.
Run Me to Earth. By Paul Yoon. Simon & Schuster, $26 (9781501154041).
In this cinematic tale, three orphans in 1960s Laos do what is necessary to survive the chaos of war and its aftermath.
Shuggie Bain. By Douglas Stuart. Grove, $27 (9780802148049).
A heart-wrenching and haunting story of a gender-nonconforming boy and his alcoholic mother, set against the bleak backdrop of 1980s Glasgow.
Temporary. By Hilary Leichter. Coffee House, $16.96 (9781566895668).
An unnamed protagonist searches for permanence through increasingly absurd job assignments in this inventive gig-economy satire.
The Vanishing Half. By Brit Bennett. Riverhead, $27 (9780525536291).
Twin African American sisters escape their oppressive Louisiana hometown to lead very different lives. A story about race, identity, and the consequences of individual choice.
Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace. By Carl Safina. Holt, $30 (9781250173331).
Intimate and accessible portraits of three species reveal how culture and social learning shape their lives.
Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma and the Fight for Justice. By Pam Fessler. Liveright, $28.95 (9781631495038).
At a little-known government treatment facility in rural Louisiana, patients battle the physical symptoms and unwarranted ostracism that result from Hansen’s disease.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. By Isabel Wilkerson. Random, $32 (9780593230251).
A stark examination of America’s systemic discrimination that reveals unsettling parallels to hierarchies in India and Nazi Germany.
Children of the Land. By Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Harper, $26.99 (9780062825599).
In eloquent and unflinching prose, a Mexican-born poet chronicles his family’s harrowing experiences with the U.S. immigration system.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. By Robert Kolker. Doubleday, $29.95 (9780385543767).
A haunting and compassionate chronicle of a household of a dozen siblings, six diagnosed with schizophrenia, told in parallel with scientists’ efforts to understand the disorder.
Just Us: An American Conversation. By Claudia Rankine. Graywolf, $30 (9781644450215).
A collection of essays, poems, and art that draws the reader into a frank and intimate dialogue about race and white privilege.
A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice and Freedom. By Brittany K. Barnett. Crown, $28 (9781984825780).
In this passionate memoir, a driven lawyer recounts fighting draconian sentences meted out to Black Americans in the “War on Drugs.”
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir. By Natasha Trethewey. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062248572).
In spare prose, a poet celebrates and mourns the mother whose life was cut brutally short, forging lifelong grief into moving remembrance.
Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West. By Lauren Redniss. Random, $30 (9780399589720).
Beautiful and heartbreaking, this illustrated work seamlessly compiles an array of voices, illuminating the conflict over an Apache holy place slated to become a mine.
We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State. By Kai Strittmatter. Custom, $28.99 (9780063027299).
An eye-opening journalistic account of escalating totalitarianism, its tools and technologies, and its implications worldwide.
Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy. By David Zucchino. Grove, $28 (9780802128386).
A sobering, resonant look at a little-known insurrection that for decades was wrongly described as a race riot instigated by its city’s Black population.
Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry. By John Murillo. Four Way, $16.95 (9781945588471).
Combining the classical and the modern, this tripartite collection melds technical mastery of language with themes of memoir, police violence, and authenticity.
Owed. By Joshua Bennett. Penguin, $20 (9780143133858).
Through masterful wordplay and resonant themes, these poems vividly explore the perspective of the othered, childhood, family, and memory.
Postcolonial Love Poem. By Natalie Diaz. Graywolf, $16 (9781644450147).
A dazzling collection that explores the beauty of desire, the terror of violence on Indigenous people, and the vital need for preserving culture.
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